Dynamic Downtown Worship in the Anglican Tradition

God’s Grace in Samburu by Betsy G. Henderson

St. Michael’s has been well-represented in Kenya this past summer, with Nena Jackson’s visit to Nyahururu in June, and then the July trip to Nyahururu and Samburu that included Bill Johnson, Nancy and Ray Hardwick, Susan and Charles Waring, Jennifer and Dan Polon, Ellie and Lori Moore and myself. For 10 days, our team traveled throughout Kenya under the guidance of our Kenyan host and brother in Christ, Bishop Simon Mwaura of the independent domination “God’s Grace for All Nations” (GGFAN).

The majority of the team was based in Samburu, where we worked closely with 16+ board members of the Samburu County Nkalup Vision (SCNV), an inter-denominational initiative to build 1,000 churches in Samburu county. Faith Ventures Foundation is the strategic and financial partner to Nkalup Vision. The overall mission objective for this trip was two-fold: The Nyahururu-based team lead a pastoral Bible study with more than 60 Kenyan pastors through GGFAN, and the Samburu-based team visited 18 of more than 300 “preaching points” to worship with unreached communities throughout the region and better understand some of challenges that these communities and the pastors ministering there face.

These objectives only begin to scratch the surface of describing the July trip, because what the Lord did with our team’s time in Kenya lifted the experience to a spiritual dimension that was beyond lists, logistics and schedules. In some of the most remote places, the Lord brought about the most miraculous healing through intercessions of healing prayer, led us to meet incredible brothers and sisters in Christ, and revealed the Holy Spirit in different ways during each and every day of our travels. As someone who has been working in Kenya for nearly eight years, I can personally say without hesitation that I have never been part of a trip like the July trip to Samburu.

To understand what truly made this trip unique, it’s important to understand the context in which it took place. Samburu simultaneously refers to a remote region in Northern Kenya, a group (or tribe) of people, as well as the language that they speak. The Samburu people are traditionally nomadic pastoralists who highly prize their herds of sheep, goats and cows, and are also one of the most “unreached” — meaning those who have never heard the word of Christ — people groups in the world. Even in their own country, the Samburu are considered to be a culturally distinct tribe that resides in an extremely remote area.

For the eight of us in Samburu county, each day was as varied and beautiful as the collars of beads that the Samburu women wear around their necks, as our teams went out to visit and pray with different congregations across Samburu. Some days included blessing new church buildings that had been recently built, others were focused on worshipping under a tree with local congregations. Other days required long drives where we saw stunning parts of God’s creation such as the Great Rift Valley, zebras grazing in the countryside and semi-arid flatlands that stretched for miles. Some of the most unlikely spaces became places of worship — the dusty ground under acacia trees, people’s homes and living rooms, even a single rock outdoors on which a church would one day be built. We even were honored to worship in the first Anglican Church in Samburu county, which was built in 1936.

One thing that struck me most about this trip was the abundance of God’s grace and the presence of the Holy Spirit in a place as remote and technically unreached as Samburu. It reminds me of the passage from Matthew, that even where a few are gathered to worship, God is present; we saw this in our village visits, where sometimes we worshipped with small groups of Samburu brothers and sisters in Christ, and other times with congregations of 200 or more.

We also saw this in the hearts of the pastors from SCNV, who not only shared nearly two weeks of their time but also traveled with us each day for community visits and stayed with us through conversation after dinner each night. Whether imparting language lessons in Samburu or sharing lively stories of ministry experiences “in the bush,” the pastors’ trust in the Lord’s provision and their personal sacrifices awed and inspired us all. Many of them are not actually from Samburu — including Pastor Simon himself — and left their own tribal communities (and generally more comfortable places) to travel to Samburu and minister to the people there. In a place like Kenya where there are more than 42 tribes, this is a big deal!

Traveling alongside the SCNV board members added so much to our trip, as did the presence of the Bishop Lesuuda, the Anglican Church of Kenya’s bishop of Maralal (which means all of Samburu County). His knowledge of the region and love of the people was a constant source of insight for our group, not to mention his ability to identify local flora and fauna. From “toothbrush” trees to pointing out elephant tracks along a village path, to sharing his own experiences in teaching and ministry throughout Samburu, Bishop Lesuuda was a tremendous blessing to us all.

God’s grace was also abundant in the ways in which communities formed churches and desired more of them. Walls are not required for worship in Samburu, and most churches start outdoors “under a tree”; even churches that had been built were so new that they did not yet have pews or anywhere to sit. What was perhaps most remarkable was that a church in Samburu is more than just a place of worship; it is also a much-needed space that may be used for community meetings, nursery school for young children and sometimes even visiting medical clinics. In a place where few permanent buildings exist outside of town centers, having a church building is important on many levels to these communities.

Lastly, we saw God’s abundant grace in the beauty and tenacity in the hearts of the people in Samburu. We could have not received a more gracious and generous welcome in each and every community that we visited during our time there. Our team learned to eat goat and drink Kenyan tea, and found that some of the best conversations took place over the simplest fare. Even our hosts, Daniel and Rudolph at Ngari Hill Lodge in Maralal and Janet at the Earthwatch Institute in Wamba, showed us the greatest hospitality as they helped us to adjust to a new climate, cultural context and cuisine.

That said, life is not easy in Samburu; water is only available a few months of the year (during the rainy season), and is often not clean. As a result, women and children walk long distances (5+ miles) to collect dirty water on a daily basis, while boys and men spend countless hours in the bush protecting their herds from lions, hyenas and other wild animals. When asked what the greatest physical challenges the communities felt they faced, access to water and education for young children were mentioned time and time again. In some ways, Samburu county is almost an Old Testament-like setting, where people survive off the land and leave their flocks to hear the word of the Lord for the first time. In this sense, the image of Jesus as a source of “living water” and the “Great Shepherd” seemed to strongly resonate among communities.

In reflecting on all that our team experienced in Nyahururu and Samburu this past July, it is easy to come away with great certainty that God’s grace is abundantly present throughout Samburu and those places where the Moore team visited. The challenge is deciphering what the Lord’s call is for us individually and collectively to be a part of His work there. This is something that our group has been praying on before, during and now following the Kenya trip; we ask you join along with us in praying about this call, as well as:

For the people of Samburu who are coming to know Christ for the first time,

For the pastors (and their families) from GGFAN and the Nkalup Vision who are putting their lives on the line to minister for Samburu, and

For the miraculous ways that the Lord is working through the Good Shepherd Children’s Home and the leadership of the Rev. Simon and Lucy Mwaura in Nyahururu.

As we have learned to say in Samburu, ashe oling (thank you very much) and meisis Nkai! (praise God.)